Places to Visit in Uzbekistan
Looking for places to visit in Uzbekistan? Look no further than this comprehensive guide to this highly underrated gem of the Silk Road.
Discover the laid-back capital; Tashkent. Marvel at the dazzling madrases of Samarkand, capital of the Timurid empire and take an adventurous trip to the border with Afghanistan at Termiz!
Read on to find out more!
Top Places to visit in Uzbekistan
VISA for Uzbekistan
Good news, Uzbekistan is now VISA free for citizens of many countries. It wasn’t always thus and I remember spending a lot of time having to go back and forth to the Uzbek embassy in London back in 2017. On my latest visit in 2019 I didn’t need a VISA at all and the infrastructure had improved greatly in those few years between visits.
Visa Free – 90 Days
Citizens of the following countries can enter Uzbekistan VISA free for up to 90 days:
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine
Visa Free – 30 Days
Citizens of the following countries can enter Uzbekistan VISA free for up to 30 days:
All EU countrys, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bosnia & Hervegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Vatican City.
Citizens who require a VISA can apply for an E-VISA on the official website. The E-VISA costs $20 and is valid for 30 days.
Money in Uzbekistan
It’s pretty easy to become a millionaire when travelling in Uzbekistan as $1 US dollar is equal to 9,672 Som (as at 18:09 on 08/04/20).
The currency is the Uzbek Som, however ATMs only give out USD (usually$50, but you may get lucky and find smaller denominations). You will then need to exchange your USD to Som at a bank, or on the black market if you want to risk it.
Getting to Uzbekistan
Islam Karimov Airport operates flights to and from major destinations in Europe and Asia. I don’t need to tell you how to book a flight, but you can check Trip.com as they usually have some great deals.
Uzbekistan shares land borders with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. It’s possible to cross all of these borders with varying levels of ease.
I have personally crossed to and from Kazakhstan on many occasions and once from Turkmenistan.
Be aware that many medications that are legal elsewhere in the world are highly illegal in Uzbekistan and the border guards are likely to search your medical kit for contraband. When I crossed from Turkmenistan in 2017 they rigourosly checked everything, but when I crossed from Kazakhstan in 2019 they didn’t search me at all.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth office advises checking this list from the official website of the State Customs Committee of Uzbekistan prior to departure.
Uzbekistan shares a small border with Afghanistan in the far south of the country. There is a road that leads from Mazar e Sharif in Afghanistan to the border with Uzbekistan. Once crossed, you will arrive in the Uzbek town of Termiz, which has a daily overnight train to Tashkent (via Samarkand).
From Almaty take the overnight train to Shymkent. From there take a taxi to the border (2 hours / 5,000 Tenge). Cross the border on foot (avoid early mornings where you can queue for three hours or more, and cross instead during the middle of the day).
Once you have crossed the border you can take a taxi the short ride into Tashkent (30 minutes / 1,00,000 Som). Read my full report; How to get from Almaty to Tashkent.
There is a bus that connects Bishkek in Krygystan with Tashkent. The overnight journey takes around 14 hours.
There are multiple land borders between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. See Caravanistan for information on each of these.
There is a road that goes all the way from Ashgabat in Turkmenistan to the Uzbek border near Nukus and Urgench. The road is rough and it can be slow going. The border is in the middle of nowhere and you have to cross the no mans land of 1km either by foot, or by minibus ($1).
Do not exchange money with anyone at the border, especially the soldiers, as you will get ripped off (or so I heard…)!
There is no public transport from the border to Urgench so you will need to take a taxi (there should be some waiting). In 2017 it cost my friend and I $50, which was a rip-off, but we didn’t really have any choice.
Getting Around Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan has a decent railway network that links all the major cities. The trains can be old and without air conditioning so try and avoid journeys in the height of summer as it can be unbearable (I’m speaking from experience). Visit the Uzbek Railways website for prices and timetables.
Taxis in Uzbekistan
Taking a taxin in Uzbekistan can be something of an adventure, but unfortunately the chances of being ripped off are high. Out of maybe 10 taxi journeys I took in 2019, only one driver didn’t increase the agreed cost on a variety of pretexts (need to charge for my bag, the cost was for 1 passenger, but you need to pay the same for the empty seats etc etc). Proceed with caution.
Uzbekistan is covered by large swathes of desert and the temperatures in summer can be very hot, especially in the far south. The winters are cool rather than cold.
What are the best places to visit in Uzbekistan?
The shrunken Aral Sea is located in the far north-west of Uzbekistan on the border of Kazakhstan. It is possible to visit the abandoned ships rusting in the desert in what was once the port of Moynok (Muynak). Like Aralsk across the border, there is not much left to see other than the natural disaster that turned this sea into a desert. Only for the very adventurous!
Buhkara is one of the jewels of the Silk Road alongside Khiva and Samarkand. The old city is a USESCO World Heritage site and boats over 100 mosques and madrasas.
A smaller city than both Bukhara and Samarkand, Khiva is no less impressive for it. The settlement here dates back over 1,500 years and includes some of the best preserved sites on the Silk Road.
And how beguile you? Death has no repose
Warmer and deeper than the Orient sand
Which hides the beauty and bright faith of those
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
Taken from the poem Golden Road to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker
Just the name is enough to evoke images of camels, caravans, madrases and ancient warlords. From Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan and Amir Timur, Samarkand has been one of Central Asia’s best known cities for centuries. Read my full guide to the city here; Things to do in Samarkand.
The laid back capital reminds me a lot of Russian cities (unsurprising given its Soviet history), with leafy streets lined with wooden houses. There city is sprawling but has a modern centre with some excellent restaurants and bars. The Timur museum is well worth a visit as is the Russian Orthodox Dormition Cathedral.
Termiz is located in the far south of the country a stone’s throw from Afghanistan. It is worth a couple of days to explore the ancient archaeological sites and peer across the Amu Darya River (known in antiquity as the Oxus). Read my guide here: Things to See in Termiz
About the author
Stephen Rohan currently lives in China as an English teacher. He has travelled to over 50 countries to date and first visited Uzbekistan in 2017, later returning in 2019. See the about page for more.
Photo credits: © Stephen Anthony Rohan / thetripgoeson.com
Photos of Bukhara & Khiva © Ben Sand / bittermansguide.com